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Poetry and Brave New Voices

Microphone image to suggest poetry reading. The following is an excerpt from Korina Jackson’s commentary “Poetry and Brave New Voices” (The Council Chronicle online, Spring 2011).

Central to poetry as an art form are identity and cultural politics. Poetry allows micropolitics to converge, individuals to mobilize different identities (sometimes collectively), and norms of identification to play out. . . .

[Poetry’s] language exposes social realities that are often steeped in the margins, especially for the young, who are frequently attracted to reading and writing it because it is accessible to experimentation in a way that prose is not. My study conducted in northern California and Maisha Fisher’s investigation in New York City showed that many high school students turn to poetry as a literacy practice inside and outside the classroom.

[Good examples of this can be found in the] literary arts organizations Youth Speaks in the San Francisco Bay Area and Urban Word NYC in New York City. These organizations provide mentorship and learning opportunities for youth ages thirteen to nineteen through after-school writing workshops, internships, and events for sharing their work in front of large audiences. The pedagogical approach to spoken word poetry has been modeled after successful programs such as Poets in the Schools and Poetry for the People, which not only have influenced how poetry is taught in the classroom, but also have led to the proliferation of other programs.

My own research affirms the idea that poetry can be used as a form of critical literacy both inside and outside school. That is, rooted in the poetry process are literacy practices that assess traditional and social texts to negotiate the relations of power that inform them.

As a medium of expression, poetry can be one means for moving educators a step closer to improving educational practices and, ultimately, can accelerate literacy achievement for traditionally underserved students. It creates learning environments that allow youth to take part more fully in their own learning processes. . . .

As youth poets have demonstrated in notebooks, classrooms, workshops, slams, and elsewhere, writing about what matters most is where the possibilities lie.